US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton welcomed progress in US efforts to invest in India’s civilian nuclear power industry, but said more action was needed to translate improving ties into economic benefits.
The two governments held their annual strategic dialogue in Washington on Wednesday, seeking to boost relations that have blossomed in recent years, but have yet to meet US hopes for greater market access for US companies.
“It’s not enough just to talk about cooperation on issues ranging from civil nuclear energy, attracting US investment to India or defending human rights or promoting women’s empowerment,” -Clinton said, alongside Indian Minister of Foreign Affairs S.M. Krishna.
“We have to follow through so that our people, citizens of two, great pluralistic democracies, can see and feel the benefits,” she said.
Krishna said India planned to invest US$1 trillion in infrastructure development over the next five years, offering enormous business opportunities for US companies. He offered assurances to prospective investors that there would be “a level playing field and total transparency.”
Two years ago, US President Barack Obama declared that the US-India relationship would be a defining partnership of the 21st century. Security cooperation and defense sales have grown rapidly and Washington looks to New Delhi as a partner in the economic development of Afghanistan, but some analysts say the relationship is being oversold.
Clinton said bilateral trade and investment had grown 40 percent since 2009 and is set to exceed US$100 billion this year, but there is “a lot of room for further growth.”
The two sides agreed on Wednesday to expedite negotiations on a bilateral investment treaty to reduce barriers.
Clinton welcomed the signing, announced on Wednesday, of an agreement between Westinghouse Electric Co and the Nuclear Power Company of India Ltd allowing preliminary site development for future construction of nuclear power plants in western India.
Clinton said it was a significant step toward the fulfillment of a 2008 India-US civil nuclear agreement. That landmark pact, negotiated by the administration of then-US president George W. Bush, allowed India access to technology from international suppliers it had been denied since it conducted its first nuclear test explosion in 1974.
Krishna said it should “put at rest” confusion surrounding the agreement.
“I am glad that nuclear commerce is now beginning to expand itself,” he said at a news conference, expressing hopes that more Indian and US companies would become involved in the months ahead.
Clinton said she looked forward to additional deals with other US companies, including General Electric, but said there was still a lot of work to be done to address the implications of Indian nuclear liability legislation that has effectively blocked US suppliers from capitalizing on the agreement.
Scott Shaw, a spokesman for Westinghouse, said by e-mail those issues need to be addressed before a final agreement for the project in India’s Gujurat State could be signed.
The Obama administration has invested considerable diplomatic capital in promoting ties with India, but New Delhi has struggled to deliver on the kinds of economic changes that Washington wants.
In November last year, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government backtracked on plans to allow foreign investment by such companies as Wal-Mart in its supermarket — or “multibrand” — retail sector after it ran into domestic opposition.